On Shijing's "Do Not HoldMy Tongue” (莫捫朕舌): An Etymological Explanation

in Bulletin of Chinese Linguistics

Based on the study of the word family "door" (門), this article suggests that the word "to hold" (捫) had the original meaning "to hold the door open/closed". This word developed extended meanings in two opposite directions. The phrases "to hold the tongue" (捫舌) seen in Shijing (詩經), meaning meaning "to not talk", or "to hold the foot" (捫足), meaning "to cover the foot", both derive from "to hold closed"; in contrast, "to hold tears" (捫淚), meaning "to let tears go, to wipe tears away", derives from "to hold open".

This article also reveals the crucial role of word families in the study of lexical development. For instance, once the etymological relationship among "door" (門), "to ask" (問) "to hear" (聞), "to muffle" (悶), and "to hold" (捫) is clear, the explanation underlying the grammatical characteristics of these words becomes clearer. This approach has general application to our understanding of the history of the Chinese lexicon as a whole.

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On Shijing's "Do Not HoldMy Tongue” (莫捫朕舌): An Etymological Explanation

in Bulletin of Chinese Linguistics

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